John Keats

The Eve of St. Mark

Upon a sabbath day it fell, 
Twice holy was the sabbath bell 
That call'd the folk to evening prayer;
The City streets were clean and fair 
From wholesome drench of April rains 
And on the western window panes 
The chilly sunset faintly told 
Of unmatur'd green vallies cold, 
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge, 
Of rivers new with springtide sedge, 
Of primroses by shelter'd rills 
And daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the sabbath bell: 
The silent Streets were crowded well 
With staid and pious companies 
Warm from their fire-side orat'ries 
And moving with demurest air 
To even song and vesper prayer. 
Each arched porch and entry low 
Was fill'd with patient folk and slow, 
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet 
While play'd the organ loud and sweet.

The Bells had ceas'd, the prayers begun 
And Bertha had not yet half done: 
A curious volume patch'd and torn, 
That all day long from earliest morn 
Had taken captive her two eyes 
Among its golden broideries;
Perplex'd her with a thousand things— 
The Stars of heaven and angels' wings, 
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints in silver rays, 
Moses' breastplate, and the seven 
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged Lion of St. Mark 
And the covenantal Ark 
With its many mysteries, 
Cherubim and golden Mice.

Bertha was a maiden fair 
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see 
Sidelong its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishop's garden wall 
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall 
Full-leav'd the forest had outstript,
By no sharp north wind ever nipt 
So shelter'd by the mighty pile.
Bertha arose and read awhile 
With forehead 'gainst the window-pane. 
Again she tried and then again 
Until the dusk eve left her dark 
Upon the Legend of St. Mark. 
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin 
She lifted up her soft warm chin, 
With aching neck and swimming eyes 
And daz'd with saintly imageries.

All was gloom, and silent all, 
Save now and then the still footfall 
Of one returning townwards late,
Past the echoing minster gate.

The clamorous daws that all the day 
Above tree tops and towers play 
Pair by pair had gone to rest, 
Each in its ancient belfry nest 
Where asleep they fall betimes 
To musick of the drowsy chimes,
All was silent—all was gloom 
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul 
And struck a Lamp from the dismal coal, 
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair 
And slant book full against the glare. 
Her shadow in uneasy guise 
hover'd about a giant size
On ceilingbeam and old oak chair, 
The Parrot's cage and panel square 
And the warm angled winter screen 
On which were many monsters seen 
Call'd Doves of Siam, Lima Mice
And legless birds of Paradise, 
Macaw, and tender av’davat 
And silken-furr'd Angora cat. 
Untir'd she read; her shadow still 
Glower'd about as it would fill 
The room with wildest forms and shades, 
As though some ghostly Queen of spades 
Had come to mock behind her back,
And dance, and ruffle her garments black. 
Untir'd she read the Legend page 
Of holy Mark from youth to age, 
On Land, on Seas, in pagan-chains, 
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned Eremite 
With golden star, or dagger bright 
Referr'd to pious poesies
Written in smallest crowquill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell'd out from time to time:
—’Als writith he of swevenis
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke hem bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde;
And how a litling child mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (god her blesse)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce.
Of Goddis love and Sathan's force
He writith; and thinges many mo:
Of swiche thinges I may not shew;.
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie;
And chieftie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe.’

At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent Martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine
Exalt amid the tapers' shine
At Venice—

spoken  Robin Gabrielli